On Thursday, George W. Bush will give his last public address as US President. And the sun will set on the most controversial American presidency since 1945.
The world over, Bush inspires reactions ranging from outright disdain to visceral hatred. The discourse remains ripe with emotion, which can be distorting. It’s time to ask: what has he actually done?
Illlustration: Jayachandran / Mint
For India, he’s done a lot. Unlike Bill Clinton, who acknowledged India only in the last years of his presidency, Bush sought to improve relations right from the start. Then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh’s April 2001 meeting at the White House set the tone for greater Indo-US security cooperation. This has culminated in not just better dialogue, but also arms deals and intelligence sharing. The civilian nuclear deal, this relationship’s zenith, was ratified quickly in October 2008.
In the wake of 9/11, Bush made the War on Terror central to his presidency. India, which finds itself in the same fight, is sure to reap benefits. After 26/11, Washington has shown this commitment.
On the economic front, too, Bush has helped India. He defended outsourcing and free trade during the 2004 US election, without which there may have been a backlash against India’s call centres. Bush has also aided in greater economic dialogue: An October 2005 technology agreement is paving the way to establish patent protocols.
But to the US and the world, Bush’s legacy will not be about India. It will rest on two issues: the financial crisis and West Asia.
While there are others to blame, President Bush oversaw a destructive easy-money policy that inflated asset bubbles. And though he tried to rein in Fannie Mae—the root of the housing mania—he didn’t succeed even when his party held legislative power. It was disappointing to recently see him succumb to pressure to bail out Detroit’s auto industry, just as he caved in on health care spending and steel tariffs in 2002.
Like any war, the one in Iraq turned unpredictable and bloody for much of its course. Bush at least acknowledged the mistakes he made. And, displaying great mettle to oppose a political consensus screaming for withdrawal, he authorized a troop “surge” in January 2007. The new strategy has succeeded, and the next generation of Iraqis may well grow up in a prosperous and stable democracy.
History is likely to judge Bush more kindly than his contemporaries do.
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